Changemaker Stories: Alvaro De Abreu Puig

The changemaker series are a set of interviews that look to move the spotlight from the usual “project impact and outcomes” of our regular work. This is an opportunity to illustrate the humans behind the projects – those who choose to go above and beyond. We hope it will inspire others to do the same and serve as testimony that however big or small your dream, it is possible to bring positive social change to your community. These are the everyday heroes in the Dream Building Fund Programme.

Alvaro De Abreu Puig is the founder of Talent4Development, a non-profit organisation that aims to use table tennis as a tool to offer children living in slums of Nairobi, Kenya, access to education and a way to break the cycle of poverty. Through the project Mathare Tables for Hope, the organisation strives to give children the ability to imagine a different future and the tools of education to live their dream by offering free regular table tennis sessions, mentoring sessions and local role models. This Spanish young man changed his life around after a trip to Kenya and has since moved there to live his dream of building an academy and changing lives. ITTF Level 1 certified coach and Dream Building Fund project leader shares his dream with us.

Madrileño finds the home of his dream in Kenya

I'm thirty-one years old, from Madrid, Spain, I studied business and law and sport management in my city in Madrid. My main passion in life is sport and I´m good at teaching. I like teaching sports and working with kids because they are hungry to learn. I think I have the patience that you need sometimes to teach children."

How table tennis changed his life

“My dream has always been, to open an academy, but it was a faraway dream not a real one, I thought. I started table tennis when I was around 12 years old. I remember in my neighbourhood, we had a very old table and I started there, I was then connected to a club in Madrid and I grew from there. At first, I really liked competing, training and that was my focus. I trained three to four times a week and thought I loved competition and wanted to become a champion. I had to stop suddenly because of an injury which I later found out to be a hernia in the neck, meaning I could not train to that level anymore. At the time, I was not sure what to do, but now looking back it was a real turning point for me to understand what I really liked about the sport. Having to stop competition made me realise I didn't want to end with sport and what I loved most was being part of a club, the people, the atmosphere, learning, developing myself, training with others and the whole process but not the actual competition. It was then that the dream to create my own space to share this with others was born."

How it all started

"It all started after my studies I wanted to travel and discover the world outside my city, I had always lived in Madrid and I needed to get out of my comfort zone. I decided to travel and volunteer. I love my city, but I knew I loved sports, table tennis in particular and that I needed to challenge myself and discover somewhere new, combining those two objectives. I found myself volunteering in Mathare, Nairobi, Kenya, and it ended up changing my life. Now, it is my life.

After volunteering, I knew I wanted to come back and even move to Nairobi, I went back to Spain and decided to move to Nairobi and that was that. Now, I am living the dream. We created Talent4Development, the project is running, we got the Dream Building Fund. Other than Covid, everything is going well. The main problem we are trying to solve is to break the cycle of poverty. Many people in Europe think the whole continent of Africa is less developed, but there are some very developed areas, the biggest difference is the gap between the developed and the poor neighbourhoods. There are a lot of people living below the poverty line and no way to break the cycle in which they were born. After my visit, I witnessed how the children in the slums had no activities, even didn't go to school. I know teaching sport can offer them new opportunities and a way to imagine a better life. They all have talent but no one is investing and believing in them. We try to develop their talent and make them see their potential, not just in table tennis, but by learning table tennis they get confidence because they see they can improve with practise. This has a huge impact and can lead to a big change in their lives because in a lot of cases, their families cannot afford secondary education."

What he is trying to offer through the project?

“Now that I founded Talent4Development and have the project running, it's like I'm living the dream. I am helping the community and I think the dream now is to keep doing this and maybe even at some point expand the projects and the academy. But the most important for me is to be happy and able to enjoy what I do every day."

His motivation and the impact he has seen

“For me, it's easy, since being a child I know I love the training, it gives me purpose and structure, I love to know there is training. You get to see everyone, train and live. It's a lifestyle that fulfils me. I can tell the others, the children, even sometimes the coaches, they focus on performance and results, but I tell them, it's not about that, it's about a lifestyle, and focussing on what you can control, not the results. That's why this is more than table tennis, it's about life and how to develop and build a life you want and seeing further than the slum. I enjoy mentoring them for life, for success and failure in life and making sure they get an education and grow as leaders within Talent4Development because we want to have some of them grow and give back because they are role models for the younger ones.

So many children have been changed, even the coaches I mean even us, the Mathare Tables for Hope project has changed us. We have become like a family, and Joseph and Jumbo – the senior coach – we learn from each other. That is the biggest strength of the project, the people, their belief in what we are doing and their motivation. Everyone cares about the others and is very encouraging and supportive. Even the children now are giving each other advice, it's really great to see.

Advice from Alvaro

“The main advice I would like to give is: Don't wait to get a lot of resources to start, if you have an idea that you believe is good, that you believe it can help your community, go on. I started to take the first step, and you can also do it right now. And don't be scared to stop for a while and thinking of ways to adapt of change yours, there are different alternative ways to do what you want to do, you have to be flexible.

The only thing you can regret is not trying. But whatever you have in mind, take the first step and don't give up and continue, because it will only get clearer.”

Learn more about the project in the Mathare Slum, Nairobi, Kenya: HERE

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